ALBANY—For the past few days, reporters have lobbed various big "one-year later" questions at the governor, noting that at this time in 2008 we were re-hinging our jaws as Eliot Spitzer prepared to resign.
In a sit-down with reporters today Paterson said he is proudest of sounding the alarm early on the state's worsening fiscal crisis. He regrets not appointing a U.S. senator more quickly. If he could start over with perfect hindsight, he said, he would have built a transition team.
"I've learned to act, not to react," Paterson said. "I think that when we first came in, I acted—very quickly and very decisively. When the Senate selection started becoming a circus, I should have acted and just ended it. Rather than reacting, in a way, and feeling it wasn't me that was creating the circus. Because I put a budget bill in in December—this is a budget deficit of $15.4 billion—and everyone asked me about the Senate selection. State of the State address, a press conference and you all ask me about the Senate selection. I should have just ended it, and I understand it."
This was the beginning of Paterson's plunge in the polls, which a survey released today finds is persisting. Since, he has reshuffled staff and managed to enact a deficit reduction package that eliminated the current year's $1.6 billion deficit.
"What I also did, at the same time, was that I got the leaders to understand this was a serious issue, even if I didn't get the press to understand it, and we came right back in February and in the middle of it, cut $1.6 billion," Paterson said. "In the midst of this, we've been able to come together to such an extent that we have a framework that we're working from now which is maybe ahead of schedule. There are all these things that you would have done differently, but actually, to be honest with you, if I [had] stepped back working on the staff, and this state got behind in the budget crisis, then you'd be asking me about that. So my point just is that I think that we now have a team that we're happy with and we're now active."
The next step in the budget negotiations, Paterson said, is to work something out with public employee unions. They are locked into multi-year labor contracts, but the governor said in recent days discussions have been "civil, and they have been more pragmatic."
After that, he said, he hopes to make more progress on health care, and wants to make sure New York can be at the forefront of developing stem cell research. He mentioned legislation on hpaid family leave, another bill ensuring reproductive rights and a loosening of the Rockefeller drug laws. He said of legalizing gay marriage, "I'm always ready to sign the bill."
He also said feels "blessed" to be the governor, despite the negative attention.
"This is exciting, and it's a challenge, and it's a wonderful opportunity people wish they had had," he said.